smoke

"you're so much a man," she says when she walks out of Max's shower, and she's wearing the same gray sweater and the same blue skirt, and she walks out of Max's shower, and Max is waiting in the kitchen smoking a cigarette.

Max looks at her.

he smokes his cigarette, then flicks it out to the sink. her hair is wet and it drapes over her shoulders, leaving wet stains on her gray sweater. her make up is smeared down her face and she looks like steam from the shower. Max thinks she is not real.

"yes." he says. he has forgotten what she has said. so he nods simply and turns on the water in the sink, flooding the limp ashes down the gutted drain.

"I mean it. I do. you're so much a man. it's strange. I don't know. I guess a lot of men aren't men. but you are." she says this as she walks closer towards him, and Max stares down the sink. the water sucks down sound as it disappears along with the limp ashes. Max reaches into the pockets of his pants. he pulls out another cigarette and he strikes a match against the drain board. she watches him light the cigarette.

Max does not say anything to her.

she looks down at the floor. Max knows she is uncertain. she was uncertain last night, when Max found her at the picture store in the half-empty mall, staring at an old fashioned map. she was uncertain when he gave her a cigarette and led her outside. she was uncertain when Max drove from the empty parking lot to his shoebox apartment. she was uncertain when Max was taking off her gray sweater, her blue skirt, when Max had her down against the bed, when Max had his mouth on hers, but she grew certain and certain. Max felt her beneath him, growing certain. now she is uncertain again.

"sorry." she whispers, straightening a small piece of her wet hair.

"no." Max shakes his head.

she looks up at him again. when she cocks her head he wonders if she lied about her age.

"no what?" she asks.

"no, I'm not much of a man." he tells her, and smiles a strained smile around his cigarette.

"yes." she is adamant suddenly, and Max knows she lied about her age. "yes, you are."

"why would you say that?" Max sucks hard down on the acrid smoke, it burns his throat, his nose. it burns his mouth, and Max takes the cigarette from his mouth. he watches the smoke go up to the ceiling.

she stares hard at him.

"because your eyes aren't afraid. you know. I can't see much in your eyes, but I can see they aren't afraid." she says carefully.

"how old are you?" Max asks; gives a grim smile.

she looks down quickly at the floor.

"twenty." she murmurs. Max knows she is lying. come to think, Max knew she was lying last night. but it had somehow gone beyond her lying. Max had wanted her. not her. Max never knew what he wanted, but she had come close to it. now he was smoking again. it was early in the morning, and Max hated smoking in the morning.

"yeah." Max says. he doesn't smile anymore.

"anyway. I like your eyes." she tells Max, looking up again.

"they aren't mine." Max shrugs.

she frowns at him.

"I mean, of course, that no one's eyes are their own. think about it. your eyes are things that happen to you." Max isn't sure why he's telling her. he should really tell her to leave. she looks about seventeen, and Max doesn't want any trouble.

"well then the things that've happened to you have made you so much a man." she concedes.

Max sighs, and it turns into a laugh, and the laugh burns his throat worse than the cigarette.

"hey kid, why don't you get going." Max finally waves his hand to her, and she licks her lips, and she plays with her hair some more.

"why did you take me with you, if you thought I was a kid?" her voice has a petulant challenge to it now. that makes Max want to laugh again, but he doesn't want his throat to burn anymore.

"because I'm so much of a man." Max tells her bluntly.

"it was nice." she finally shrugs. her dripping hair has makes patterns on Max's floor, they remind him of smoke, like the smoke would cling to the ceiling, or she was made of smoke, and when she was gone she would cling to his bathroom mirror and see him shave, and see him be so much of a man. or not one at all.

"I'm glad you thought so. don't be stupid next time." Max feels like he is so much older. he finishes his cigarette and drops it down the drain again.

"I wasn't stupid." she argues.

"you came with me." Max says. he doesn't know why he's doing this. he wants to wave his hand and make her go away, and make her turn into the air, but he doesn't want to breath her in, so she can see his eyes from the inside, where the world has not seen fit to touch.

"couldn't help it." she shrugs, then she walks past Max, and Max looks at her, and he is happy that she is not crying.

"all right." Max nods, and he takes a cigarette and he hands it to her as she walks past. she takes it from him and stares at it, and puts it in her pocket.

"you are so much a man." she smiles and he hears her walk out of the door.

Max realizes he has been standing by the sink for a long time, since she had gone into the shower, and his legs feel odd underneath him. Max shakes his head, and his eyes hurt from the smoke, and he walks outside, thinking that he should have offered to drive her home or something, and then glad that he didn't, because Max wouldn't want his car to have the smoke plastered to the windows, where he can see his eyes, and his eyes are not his own.

"so much a man, Max." he laughs, and the laughing burns his throat again, and he coughs and coughs, until he hopes she is far away, and he's not a man, not a man coughing from laughing, and Max realizes that laughing is worse than all the cigarettes in the goddamned world.